The Circle of Life

I don’t know whether the thoughts I have been having latterly about life are as a result of a) having a baby recently, b) giving up drinking recently or c) growing older recently (I understand that we are all growing older from the day we are born and therefore this can’t be a thing you do recently, or something that you used to do – it is something that you do, always. But I mean growing older in a different sense; I mean growing in wisdom).

I wrote in an earlier post (Robert the Geranium Plant) that in my view, you don’t grow as a person when you regularly get wasted, drinking to obliterate happiness and sadness and emptiness and joyfulness and loneliness. You only develop your character when you face everything that life hurls at you, head on. You can’t protect yourself by hiding behind the flimsy shield of booze; in doing so, you are essentially freezing your emotional maturity, and the day will come when life will demand a level of sensibility of you, and you just won’t be able to cut the mustard.

Anyway, today my thoughts turned to the circle of life. As I fed my baby, I realised that this precious life in my arms, the responsibility that I have for her life, isn’t simply for the living, breathing physical being that I was holding. It is for everything that should be hers during the next seventy or eighty years, or for however long she will live for on this earth. The life that sleeps in a cot as I write this, is an education, a graduation, a first kiss, friendships, nights out with friends, nights in alone, tears of happiness and of sadness, grieving, celebrations, a marriage, giving birth, wondering what to wear, being on a diet, feeling fantastic, having a bad hair day, walking a dog, flying a kite, achieving goals, fulfilling a dream, enjoying a good book, learning a language, passing a driving test, getting a parking ticket, grazing a knee, doing the shopping, falling in love, breaking up, getting a promotion, developing a crush. That is the weight of the responsibility of having a child – the life that you create is the decades on this earth, living in its entirety.

Later, as I pushed the pram through the park, Lily gazing upwards at the leaves wafting on the trees, I passed a trio of old ladies drinking tea outside the café. And when I looked at them, I saw their lives. I didn’t see old ladies, at a standstill in time; grey and wrinkled, forever stuck in a state of decrepitude as if they had been born that way and would always be that way. I saw a fluctuating motion of lives being lived, a recognition that we are all in infancy, and childhood, youth and middle-age, grey and dying. We cannot be characterised by age, when we are all moving through life in one perpetual process of growing older. Those ladies were not frozen in time, their proximity to the end static, with their deaths arriving like a sudden shock, a bolt out of the blue that nobody saw coming. Those ladies represented life.

At one time they were celebrating their weddings, holding their newborn babies, choosing a dress for a special occasion, getting frustrated in a traffic jam, soothing a poorly child, dropping the children off at school, passing exams, going for a job interview, losing a loved one, making a cake, going to work. The ladies drinking tea were once the baby in someone’s arms, the only difference between them and Lily being that they have had their time already.

So, there I was, pondering these thoughts and ambling along, and thinking that in all the time I drank alcohol, I never thought things like this. And I asked myself, am I experiencing this moment of clarity as a result of a) having a baby recently, b) giving up drinking recently or c) growing older recently?

Probably a combination of all three.

Nb. Monday 17th September 2012 is Respect for the Aged day in Japan.

Reasons why I drank

I started drinking heavily in my mid teens and continued to do so until I hit 35. I often think about the factors that led me to drink alcoholically, because I know it was more than simply sustained exposure; right from the off I drank to get drunk, and I never, ever got it when people professed to sipping a glass of wine ‘with dinner,’ or to ‘blowing the froth off a couple’ on the way home from work. When I poured the first glass of the night, it was with one intention in mind; to down as much booze as I could get away with before I either a) passed out or b) ran out of alcohol. Whichever came first.

People often said to me that I was lacking some kind of inherent ‘off switch,’ a magic voice that I consistently saw manifest itself in others, and for which I craved longingly, a voice that would tell me to stop when I had had enough; a watchful guardian in my head, telling me to go home while I could still stand.

I have always been a funny bugger, in that I am most definitely an introverted extrovert, or an extroverted introvert, or some such contradiction. Shy on the outside with a lot going on inside and an obstacle sandwiched between the two, preventing the voice inside from being heard. Reason number one why I drank – I am actually a little bit shy, and often struggle to have conversations with people who I don’t know very well. Thus the discovery of the following equation was (for a long while) the key to social success; shy girl + wine = chatty and fun girl. Over time, the equation morphed in to this; shy girl + wine = annoying twat.

Early on in my teens I developed a rabid interest in the opposite sex. I don’t recall ever being struck with a debilitating shyness around boys, but I do know that once I threw some alcohol in to the mix, the dating game became a whole lot easier. So, reason number two; being sexy and intoxicating to the male of the species becomes easy as pie when you have knocked back a bottle of wine. Ditto the above; over time, shy girl + wine = annoying twat of a girlfriend.

I get bored very easily. I often feel as though life is just slipping through my fingers like sand, and I am overwhelmed by a desire to make it all ‘the cream.’ I don’t do banal very well. Alcohol injects fun (for me, this is really an illusion – I recognise that now. When I drank, I thought that those brilliant nights when everyone lets their hair down and bonds over meaningless conversations, and quiet nights at home transform after a few bottles have been drunk to dancing in the living room, I thought that somehow they were real. Like Primal Scream said, ‘we are unified; we are together’). I wasn’t unified and together with anyone; I was becoming discombobulated. On many nights I would find myself waking up in the early hours in a strange bed in the dark, in someone’s spare room, where someone had carried me because I had got drunk and embarrassing. Until the penny dropped, there was reason number three; get drunk and life gets more fun. Reason number four was to drown out the darkness, to forget my worries. Number five, to mask loneliness. And number six, the most stupid of all, to sufficiently wipe away the self-hatred and shame that coursed through every inch of me, owing to the vast amount of alcohol I had consumed the night before.

And the truth is that every feeling that I tried to suppress, every social interaction that I tried to lubricate, and every personality trait that I tried to fake, has blown away like a puff of smoke, now that the glass is empty. Whatever you try to escape from through drinking, it will still be there in the morning.